Here’s a little secret of mine: Since I opened my training business in 2010, I have never asked a client to sign a personal training contract. Despite this, more than half of my clients have stayed for at least two years (and counting).
I planned to use client contracts, and even put one together about five years ago. After all, it’s what all the business books tell you to do. But when it came time to pull the trigger, I changed my mind. I do offer better rates for clients who are willing to make at least a six month commitment; I just don’t make them sign anything to prove their commitment. The reason is simple: A good person who wants to work out at my gym will honour their verbal commitment unless unforeseen circumstances get in the way.
In the case of unforeseen circumstances – someone loses their job, or moves to another city, or has some kind of family or personal emergency that gets in the way of fulfilling their commitment – I would let them out of their commitment even if they had a signed contract. That’s just who I am, and something I have extended to my business. In fact any time one of my committed clients has lost their job, I’ve offered to let them continue training for free, although I often asked them to move to non-peak training times. Because I do semi-private training instead of one-on-one, this is free for me to offer and can be a nice boost for someone who is going through a rough time.
What about someone who commits to get the better rate but later decides they don’t want to be there? Without a contract, they can just walk away from their commitment without consequence. True, and from a strictly bottom line perspective, this seems like a poor business decision. The thing is, a person who doesn’t want to be there will have a negative effect on our environment. From a practical business perspective, that consequence is far worse than the loss of revenue from one client. So yes, I’m fine with someone leaving before their commitment is up if it’s not a good fit.
The last argument I can think of for having contracts is to prevent people from committing to get the better rate even though they never intended to stay for the full commitment period. This is the behaviour of a person I don’t want in my gym anyhow, so even if I had a contract, I would let them out of it if they tried to cheat me.
In other words, a contract is a meaningless piece of paper for my business, and thus not something I spend time or energy administering. I might even argue that it’s worse than meaningless, as it is basically a way of telling someone you don’t trust them.
I can see why big gyms have contracts, as there’s is a model based on volume, and one where it’s probably impossible to develop a personal relationship with every client. But if you run a boutique gym or personal training studio, you are building personal relationships with each of your clients. If that personal relationship includes trust, how does a contract fit?
Elsbeth Vaino owns and trains out of a personal training studio in Ottawa.